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The Busch Brothers, Busch Quartet and Guests Live from the 1949 Strasbourg Festival
Johannes BRAHMS (1833-1897)

Concerto for Violin and Cello in A minor Op. 102 (1887)
Sextet No. 1 in B flat major Op. 18 (1858-60)
Felix MENDELSSOHN (1809-1847)

Capriccio from Andante, Scherzo, Capriccio and Fuge (Quartet) Op. 81 No. 3
Adolf (violin) and Hermann Busch (cello) with French National Radio Orchestra/Paul Kletzki, 21 June 1949 (Brahms Double)
Busch Quartet with Albert Bertschmann (viola) and August Wenzinger (cello) in the Brahms Sextet, 13 June 1949
Busch Quartet, 11 June 1949 (Mendelssohn)
MUSIC AND ARTS CD 1083 [70.01]

It was fortunate that the Strasbourg Festival of 1949 attracted the attention of some recording apparatus. These performances were recorded on lacquer discs and the technical reconstruction has been undertaken by Maggi Payne. The Double Concerto emerges dimly but in still perfectly listenable sound but the Sextet is very much more problematical; I doubt if anyone could extract better sound than Payne has managed and we should be grateful that these performances have survived at all, filling gaps in Busch’s discography as they do.

Relatively plentiful now, there was a time when the only recording one could buy of the Double Concerto was the Thibaud-Casals-Cortot set recorded in Barcelona. Others appeared in the two decades that followed – Heifetz-Feuermann-Ormandy (incandescent), Kulenkampff–Mainardi-Schuricht, and Oistrakh-Sadlo-Ancerl but Adolf Busch, noted Brahmsian though he was, never recorded it commercially. Which was not perhaps surprising given the existence of the Heifetz-Feuermann. That deficiency has been righted here in a performance that takes a far more measured and considered view of the score than their Russian contemporaries, though one slightly quicker than, say, the familiar Oistrakh-Fournier-Galliera recording.

The relative dimness of the aural perspective makes for occasional imprecision in the orchestral sound, added to which Hermann Busch, fine chamber player though he was, was not a soloist and for all the phrasal sensitivity and interplay with his brother the gruffness of his playing and the frequent lack of centring of the note can and does prove problematical. I admired the elucidatory and revelatory phrasing by both brothers at 9.30 – great nobility and elevation of phrasing with the seamless limpidity of their exchanges - and the absence (expected of course) of gladiatorial theatrics, such as does sometimes limit the Heifetz-Feuermann recording. The principal clarinet of the French National Radio Orchestra is also in fine form and proves a player of distinction. In the slow movement there is great raptness of phrasing though arguably it is too predictably effected through increases in vibrato usage and bow pressure. There are however pleasures in the unusual angularity of the cello line and the ways in which Hermann Busch cleverly varies phrases and employs his still gruff but now keening lower strings. They keep things moving but still have plenty of time for lyrical introspection (they are slightly quicker than Oistrakh-Fournier but much slower than the galvanic Heifetz-Feuermann (8.03 against the Russians’ 6.47). There is real lightness in the finale – this is the best played and interpreted of the three movements – with some almost gnomic exchanges between the string players and much scurrying, flighted passagework. Kletzki abets this with a really felicitous care and energy.

The Sextet, as I indicated, is in rather poor sound, muffled and very much to be taken on trust, the first movement especially. We can still make out much though, with Albert Bertschmann (viola) and August Wenzinger (cello) joining the Busch Quartet. Wenzinger will be better remembered for his popular viol consort. There is flexibility in the opening movement and a dignified and affectionate cohesion to the famous Andante that lifts it beyond the static and sepulchral performances one sometimes hears. The Scherzo is fantastically fleet, a headlong dash phrased with insinuating and life enhancing lightness. The Rondo finale suffers increasing aural problems – break ups and distortion but is taken at a gracious and elegantly flowing tempo. There’s an encore – all announced by the way – of the Mendelssohn Capriccio, which is full of winsome clarity and soaring verve.

Jonathan Woolf

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